A Village Hidden in Hope
Part 2:2 New Worlds, Old Weirdoes
Obi-Wan Kenobi paced back and forth across the small bridge. The pilot had left a few hours ago to catch up on sleep, as his skills would not be needed in the middle of a sandstorm. The other man had not been talkative, but the room now seemed too quiet without him.
Obi-Wan knew he should have spent the time meditating, saving his strength in case the ship came under attack before his master returned, but he could not make himself sit still. When the comm system chimed, he rushed to accept the call. The tail end of the sandstorm added hisses and pops to the audio portion of the transmission, but did nothing to hide his master's furrowed brow.
"What is wrong?" he asked before Qui-Gon could speak.
Instead of chiding him, his master simply shook his head. "Our original objective has been accomplished. A local village is has agreed to give us the parts we require. In exchange, the Queen's handmaid agreed to take 25 refugees with us to Coruscant."
"I am certain Captain Panaka will be overjoyed to hear that."
Qui-Gon nodded but his face did not even hint at a smile. Obi-Wan wondered if something about the refugees was suspicious or dangerous. He hopped the refugees weren't from a species with unpleasant bodily functions, but usually that would not disturb Qui-Gon in the least. He suspected Qui-Gon took some sort of perverse pleasure in making things awkward for him and then lecturing him on decorum.
"I have found a candidate for Jedi training," Qui-Gon said. "I have also come across a very unusual phenomenon, and I would like your opinion on it when you arrive."
"You aren't bringing the parts to us?" Obi-Wan asked.
"This village is relatively secure, and we will have to collect our new passengers as well. I am sending you the coordinates now. As soon as it is safe to fly, bring the ship," Qui-Gon ordered, and ended the transmission.
Panaka was as happy to hear about the refugees as Obi-Wan expected, which was not at all. He did not rush off to tell the Queen, though. He only muttered that the Queen trusted Padme's judgment. Panaka was more wary about flying their damaged ship into a village, no matter how small, and he must have picked up on Obi-Wan's unease as well.
"What else is wrong?" Panaka asked.
"I'm sure if it was something serious, Master Jinn would tell me," Obi-Wan said.
The captain did not look convinced. "What do you think is wrong?"
"Master Qui-Gon seemed a bit strained," Obiwan said. "It is probably nothing."
Captain Panaka did not look at all reassured. "Do you think your master could be acting under duress?"
"No," Obi-Wan answered eventually.
"Contact Padme," the captain said to the nearest crewmember.
Obi-Wan had not known Padme had her own communication device, but he did not object. He did fidget with embarrassing nerves as they waited for the Queen's maid to answer. Padme eventually responded, and told them nothing was wrong and that they should indeed land at the given coordinates with all due haste. She also made a comment about some kind of soup which was obviously code for something, and made the rest of the Naboo delegation relax.
The crew got the engines on line and the ship limped into the air, rocking quite a bit as the repulsors took more than their fair share of the weight. The endless sand was finally interrupted by a half-constructed city. They circled once and then dropped into a narrow lot, between rows of dilapidated spacecraft. The pilot guided them into a large hanger where a dozen people of various species waited with tool bags and a plastic-wrapped hunk of junk that was probably their new generator.
Obi-Wan followed the captain through the ship to the back ramp. Everything seemed normal enough. He spotted Qui-Gon picking his way through the repair crew, but his master seemed oddly washed out and his presence in the Force was the barest whisper. Obi-Wan hurried towards him, struggling to stay calm. He opened himself to the Force, trying to feel what was wrong.
The captain spoke but Obi-Wan couldn't make sense of his words. Obi-Wan stepped onto the ramp and froze. He couldn't decide if he needed to run, vomit, or slam his head against the ground until he was unconscious. He could not deny the pressing need to be away and empty. The ground seemed to spin away from him. The captain grabbed him under the armpits and held him upright. Obi-Wan could feel his own mouth moving, speaking, but he had no idea what he was saying.
"Calm yourself, Padawan," Qui-Gon said quietly.
His master's words drowned out at least a little of whatever it was that was trying to crush his soul. A hand caught his elbow, and after a moment of struggling to comprehend where it had come from, Obi-Wan realized his master had come up the ramp and was helping him walk down. He suspected it might not have been an entirely supportive gesture. Perhaps Qui-Gon didn't want him to flee and embarrass the Jedi order.
"You must block yourself off from the Force," Qui-Gon said quietly. "It will allow you to function at least somewhat normally."
"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked.
"At the moment I do not know." Qui-Gon said.
A small group of people stood in front of them, but Obi-Wan could only really see one of them; a humanoid teenager with three whiskers marks scarred into each cheek. Other people were washed out of perception by whatever it was emanating from the whiskered boy's stomach.
"Hold yourself away from the Force," Qui-Gon repeated. "Do not react violently."
Obi-Wan gulped, and managed to look the whiskered boy in the face. He tried to push the Force away, but that was like convincing himself to let go of a pier when the tide was pulling him out.
"Hi! I'm Naruto. Welcome to our village. You look like you're gonna barf."
"Space travel makes me queasy," Obi-Wan replied, fighting the sudden urge to draw his light saber and drive it through the boy's belly. His hands were shaking so badly he doubted he would be able to get the weapon off his belt.
"Well, there's a fresher inside over there, so if you have to barf, that's the best place. If you puke outside, some of the Grok'mets might come over and start eating it, and if you haven't already tossed everything up, after seeing that you totally would. I mean Grok'mets are nice people, but even I can't keep it together when someone's eating my half-digested nerf stew, with bits of sand floating around in it and-"
"Shmi-mama-sama, can you make some tea or something? The new Jedi guy threw up!"
"Did he see your face?" a young voice asked.
"Naw, he saw those engines you put together," Naruto said.
"Boys, is something wrong?" a woman called.
"No!" they chorused.
Still dizzy, Obi-Wan was escorted into a building and laid out on a couch. Apparently his master had given up on him being able to control himself. He heard Qui-Gon argue with someone-the captain maybe-he wasn't sure. The arguing got louder until even he was able to focus on it. He realized the dark presence had moved away.
"-lying to us." Panaka said. "Your apprentice is terrified and I'm not leaving you alone with him until you tell me what the hell is going on. He said 'It's in him!' and 'it' didn't sound like a good thing."
They couldn't afford to work against each other. Not with that thing out there.
"Not him," Obi-Wan choked out. "The boy, the one in the orange coveralls. There's something in him."
"He does have a strong presence in the Force," Qui-Gon said. "It is affecting Obi-Wan more severely than I anticipated."
"Is everything all right?" a boy in greasy overalls called from the doorway.
"Yes, Anakin," Qui-Gon answered. "My apprentice is just feeling a little unwell."
"It's going to swallow the suns," Obi-Wan said without intending to.
"He doesn't sound alright," Anakin said.
"I agree," Panaka said.
"He just needs some rest," Qui-Gon said. "And some quiet in which to meditate. Come along, Anakin."
His master walked out of the room, sweeping the others with him. Obi-Wan was left alone, confused, and trying his best not to be frightened.
Fear leads to the Dark Side, he thought and then let out a slightly panicked laugh. He felt a strange ripple in the Force, and was certain something nearby was laughing, too.
Shmi Skywalker watched the Jedi haul his wobbly, muttering apprentice into the customer lounge. She did not miss the terror on the young man's face, or the way he hunched away from Naruto while the boy opened doors for them and tried to be helpful.
She called Naruto away, and suggested he go and greet the other new arrivals. As soon as Naruto scampered off, Anakin took his place. She considered calling him away as well, but she thought it might be good for Anakin to see that Jedi were not as invulnerable as legend made them out to be. Qui-Gon shooed her son and another member of the Nabooian crew away soon after, and left his apprentice alone.
Shmi saw an opportunity to gather information from a less biased, or at least less wary source. The young man noticed her as she slipped into the room, shifting a little on the couch, but obeyed her when she told him not to get up. She gathered a few things from the cabinet and then knelt at his side. Shmi placed the cold pack on the younger Jedi's forehead. He groaned a little and opened his eyes.
"Do you think you can drink something?" she asked as quietly as she could.
The young man nodded and she helped him sit up. She felt sorry for him, but the timing of his illness was exceedingly worrying. She did her best to hide her suspicions. Before this day she would have thought it impossible to hide things from a Jedi, but her recent interaction with Qui-Gon Jinn made her realize Jedi were not as infallible as their reputation implied, nor as honest.
When Anakin had come home through the tunnels, hours before his shift at the shop ended, she had worried that he had hurt himself. He brushed off her concerns and had presented her with a tall, leonine man, and announced his guest was a Jedi named Qui-Gon Jinn.
"Mom! Can I go to the Jedi temple?" Anakin asked.
"What?" she had asked.
Seeing her baffled look, Qui-Gon had launched into an explanation for his visit. He told her Anakin had great potential, which did not surprise her in the least, and how that potential meant he could someday be a Jedi Knight. To do so of course meant he had to go to the temple on Couruscant for training. Shmi found herself frowning at the Jedi. She had great respect for their order. They were renowned as protectors of the Galactic Republic, but she did not like that he had made the offer to her son without talking to her first.
Before she could give the Jedi a piece of her mind, or more likely politely tell him no and then just think poorly of him, Naruto arrived with more off-worlders: an amphibious orange being of a species she did not know; a droid; and a very pretty human girl, whose arm Naruto had claimed. Naruto introduced the rest of the party, refugees from Naboo who were stopping by to have their ship repaired. He then offered to make lunch for everyone. The girl, Padme, must have caught the concerned look on Shmi's face, and offered to help Naruto in the kitchen. The amphibious fellow trailed after them.
Naruto had leaned towards Padme as they walked out, and his smile was smaller than usual, but very genuine. His crush was obvious, as were his younger brother's jealous looks. Shmi was glad the girl would not be staying long. She would never deny Naruto friends, but her sons did not need something new to bicker about.
The Jedi recaptured her attention by saying, "This would be a great opportunity for your son."
Shmi tilted her head as if waiting for further explanation. She wanted a better life for Anakin, free from constant fighting and constant threats. She was no expert on Jedi, but given their penchant for dying heroically in stories, she did not think Anakin's life would be longer or safer with them.
She had previously considered moving their family and Shreevok's to the Wookiee planet, Kashyyyk. It looked promising from the descriptions she got from the Holonet, protected in Republic space, wild enough that Naruto would not be hemmed in, but civilized enough to keep Anakin busy. But then they had sold the dragon pearls, and they had the resources to free many of their fellow slaves but not all of them. She knew Anakin would not leave his childhood friends behind if he could help them, and Naruto would not leave anyone.
The Jedi did not present any further arguments for his cause, he just watched her. She turned to Anakin to say "We will discuss this later," which meant "no".
What came out was "It is your decision."
She did not press her hands to her mouth or anything so dramatic, but she knew her surprise at her own words showed on her face. "You must consider all your options very carefully," she managed to add.
Anakin smiled hugely and she found herself unable to say more. She had already banned her younger son from Pod racing because of the dangers. This did not seem much safer, but at the same time it was a rare opportunity and she did not want to hold her son back. Was this really such a bad thing? She couldn't seem to keep her thoughts in order.
Naruto returned with lunch, and chattered proudly about the village and the horribly dangerous and exciting process of founding it. Shmi did notice Anakin's very thoughtful expression as his brother talked about their adventures. She knew her son was eager to get out of Naruto's shadow, but not eager to leave their home. Naruto did a good job of reminding Anakin why he was needed here, and Anakin practically glowed when Padme praised him for his ability to slice his way into an elite model astrogation computer.
No other unexpected words popped out of her during the meal, but she kept her guard up just the same. When lunch was over, the Jedi returned to the shop to try to contact his ship, and they all went with him, even Shmi. She did not know how quickly repairs could be completed, but she did not want Anakin to "accidentally" end up on the Naboo ship when it left. She was glad she had, otherwise she might have lost her chance to interview Qui-Gon's apprentice.
The younger Jedi looked embarrassed as he reached out shaking hands for the cup she offered.
"Thank you," he said.
"I apologize for my son's behavior," she said, watching carefully for his reaction. "Naruto thinks boisterous shouting is some sort of cure-all."
"He…he is your son?" the young Jedi asked. His head tilted and he looked at her stomach. "I don't understand. You are not at all alike."
"He does more sit-ups than I do," she said.
He looked confused, and then horribly embarrassed. "I did not mean…that," he finally managed.
She smiled and waved a dismissive hand. She helped him finish his water before her next statement.
"Your master offered my son a place at your temple on Coruscant," she said.
The Jedi failed to disguise the horror on his face.
"My younger son, Anakin," she added.
"The mechanic?" the Jedi asked, swallowing and trying to compose himself. "Only your younger son?"
She nodded. "He told me Anakin had the skill to become a Jedi. When your master spoke to me, I found myself considering allowing Anakin to go, though now I am less certain it would be a good idea. What is Jedi training like?"
"We don't usually discuss the training with outsiders," he said. "The first few years are spent learning to sense the Force through meditation and with basic education as well. Most candidates begin their training as very young children. I would have thought Anakin was too old."
"What happens if he goes to the temple and they think he is too old to be trained?" Shmi asked.
"He would be sent to one of the service branches, agricultural or medical perhaps," the Jedi said. "But if he is happy here, he should stay here. And his brother, too."
She nodded. "Thank you for telling me. Do you want anything to eat?"
"No thank you, ma'am," he said.
He lay back down and she left, dimming the lights. The young man had relaxed a lot when Shmi implied Anakin would not be going. She could not begin to guess why he was so unnerved by Naruto, when most others liked him or dismissed him. She knew Naruto was a killer when he needed to be, but she doubted he was any worse than any other mercenary on Tatooine.
Perhaps they were unnerved by Naruto's strange abilities. She hoped he'd have the good sense not to show off in front of them.
Qui-Gon knelt in the shadow of the Queen's ship, trying to meditate. He had made some progress reconnecting with the Force while still inside Naruto's sphere of influence. He found he could create a sort of bubble in the Force, keeping a small pocket of the nebulous energy free from the dark pulses that rippled from Naruto when he was nearby. He had not made any progress affecting Naruto directly. Fortunately Naruto had left the room while Qui-Gon was speaking to his mother about sending Anakin to the temple. The sooner Anakin was off Tatooine the better.
Qui-Gon had been greatly disturbed by Obi-Wan's reaction to Naruto. He wanted to see if Obi-Wan noticed anything, since his apprentice had not noticed the darkness on the approach to the planet. He had not expected Naruto's presence to nearly cripple the younger Jedi. Qui-Gon thought Obi-Wan would adapt quickly, since the young usually figured things out more readily than the old.
He frowned up at the sky, wondering when he had begun to think of himself as old. He thought it may have been Naruto's presence, or perhaps meeting Anakin. If the younger brother really was the Chosen One, he would witness the end of an age. Qui-Gon found himself looking forward to the end of the status quo at the Temple more than the new and better Order that would come to be when the Force was balanced.
"Hey, old man!" Naruto shouted from right next to him.
Qui-Gon started and then stared. He looked at the boy but could not sense him. There was no darkness, no evil…no anything, really. He could sense something there, taking up space, but it was not quite solid. He extended his senses, as he had done when Naruto vanished from the repair shop earlier, and found the dark vortex of energy several kilometers away. He wondered if it had left Naruto, or if the thing before him was just some sort of projection. Did the real Naruto exist at all?
"What crawled up your butt and died?" the hollow Naruto asked.
"Nothing to my knowledge," Qui-Gon said. "Should I be on the lookout for a life form with such a proclivity?"
Naruto snorted. "Naw, you just looked all thoughtful so I figured I should rescue you. I wanted to ask you about the Jedi school you were talking to Ani about."
Qui-Gon nodded. "Please do so."
"So are you a teacher there or something?" Naruto asked.
"I don't teach children Anakin's age," Qui-Gon said. He watched Naruto for signs of disapproval, but saw only curiosity. "When students are older they become Padawan, apprentices to Jedi knights. Obi-Wan is my current apprentice, though he will become a knight soon."
"So there are knights?" Naruto asked. "Are they the highest rank?"
"There are initiates, children who study at the Temple, and then padawans, knights and masters," Qui-Gon said.
"Oh, that's like back home," Naruto said. "We had shinobi academy students, genin, chunin, and jonin, and then the Kage who is the boss of everyone."
"I thought Tatooine was your home?" Qui-Gon asked.
"It is now, I guess," Naruto said. "For a while I thought they'd send someone to bring me back to Leaf, but nobody came, and Shmi-mama-sama took me in, so she and Anakin are my family now."
Qui-Gon nodded as his mind whirled. Naruto was adopted.
"So you are not from this world?" the Jedi asked.
Naruto shook his head. "I don't know what other people called our planet, and I don't really know how I got here, either. Anakin couldn't even find any words in my language in the computers."
"Were you a jonin, on your world?" Qui-Gon asked.
"No, I was still a genin, but I was an awesome genin! I was in the finals of the chunin exam when this happened," the teenager said waving an arm expansively.
That information solved one of Qui-Gon's problems and created a few dozen more. Anakin and Naruto were not blood relatives, which meant separating them would probably be less difficult than he anticipated. But if an entity with Naruto's potential for destruction was merely the equivalent of a padawan in his people's culture, what would someone of higher rank be capable of? Obi-Wan's babbling about swallowed suns echoed in his mind. What would a planet full of people like Naruto be capable of?
"So where would Anakin fall, in this ranking system?" Qui-Gon asked.
Naruto's face scrunched up as he thought.
"Probably not even an academy student. I've been trying to teach Ani, but he doesn't get it," Naruto said. "But maybe also I'm forgetting some things. I didn't learn the basics that well at the academy, either. Iruka Sensei had to tie me to my chair to get me to stay put for lectures. Or maybe they don't teach you how to teach until you're a chunin. You think he'd learn better at your school?"
"It's possible," Qui-Gon said. "We train Jedi there, and your brother would make a good Jedi. I am not sure what a shinobi is taught, or how they are instructed. Perhaps you can show me some of your skills, and we can see how they compare?"
"Sure!" Naruto said. "We'll see who's more awesome! I'll get Padme and Ani and meet you at the dump."
As soon as he finished speaking, Naruto vanished in a puff of smoke.
Qui-Gon wondered if this was some sort of trap. It would be an opportunity to learn what Naruto was capable of, but at the same time it would expose his own vulnerabilities to a possible enemy. Naruto seemed to know very little about the Jedi order, and his family seemed to know only what was presented through the media, but what was he really about?
He supposed there was only one way to find out. He asked nearby mechanic where the dump was. The Bothan cheerfully told him.
When Naruto told Anakin he had challenged Qui-Gon to a fight at the dump, he panicked. His brother had been grinning when he made the announcement and did not seem angry, but that did not mean he wouldn't go too far and make a mess of things. Naruto had vanished before Anakin could demand he call it off, and his only option was to get there fast and make sure nothing too stupid happened.
When Qui-Gon told him he could be a Jedi, Anakin had been over the moon. He was not eager to leave home, but ever since Naruto had moved in with them, he had felt out of place. Naruto was a better fighter then Anakin could ever imagine being. Anakin was a better pilot than anyone he ever met. If he had been allowed to keep podracing he was sure he could have brought in as much money for their village as Naruto did, but his mother made him quit because it was too dangerous.
He knew Shmi did not like that Naruto did dangerous things, but she did not try to stop Naruto, she only stopped Anakin. He could admit that Naruto healed faster than he did and was much stronger, but Anakin was not useless. Naruto was still unable to work the simplest code slicing, and his plans often had holes in them that Anakin had to fix. If Anakin could just figure out how Naruto did what he did, he was sure he'd be twice as useful as Naruto ever was.
Naruto had tried to teach Anakin to manipulate chakra, but the lessons were so incomprehensible Anakin was sure Naruto was doing it wrong on purpose or just making things up. When Qui-Gon had offered him Jedi training, he was sure this was the chance he had been hoping for. And now Naruto was going to mess it up again.
Anakin ran as fast as he could through the village. Naruto had beaten him to the ravine behind the village that served as its unofficial dump, but Qui-Gon was just getting to the edge as Anakin arrived.
"Hello, Anakin!" called a female voice.
He peered into the ravine and saw Padme sitting on a wrecked speeder at the bottom. Of course his brother would want a girl around to show off for. Anakin waved to her and she waved back.
"I usually train here," Naruto said. "Since there's nothing here that's not already busted. You want to be the ref, Ani?"
"What are the rules of the spar?" Anakin asked.
"Spar?" Qui-Gon asked. "I thought we were just demonstrating skills."
"Isn't sparring the best way to do that?" Naruto asked.
Anakin did think it would be pretty awesome to see Naruto and the Jedi go all out in a fight, since he honestly did not know who would win, but if Naruto managed to knock the older man unconscious or accidentally ripped off a limb, the rest of his crew might not want to take Anakin to the Temple.
"He's got to go on his mission later," Anakin said. "Maybe you should stick with small stuff."
Naruto slumped. "Fine, but awesome small stuff!"
Qui-Gon looked a little confused, but nodded.
A staircase had been carved into the rock so you could walk to the bottom a hundred feet below, but most people just threw things over the edge. With a grin, Naruto stepped off the edge into space. Qui-Gon raised his hand, probably convinced the idiot needed saving. Anakin snagged the Jedi's elbow.
"He's fine. He's showing off," Anakin said, even as Padme's horrified shriek echoed up from the ravine.
Naruto's landing sent up a cloud of sand, but he hadn't injured himself, or landed on Padme. Anakin led the Jedi down the steps as Naruto waved at them and shouted for them to hurry up. Qui-Gon walked sedately down the steps. As the Jedi was walking down, Naruto walked up the completely vertical side of the ravine, and then did cartwheels and backflips on his way back to the ravine floor.
For the next half hour, Naruto continued to show off. He lifted a three-ton boulder and threw it from one side of the ravine to the other. Naruto handed Padme a blaster and told her to shoot at him. When she was reluctant, Anakin took the gun from her and obliged. Naruto dodged every shot. Naruto threw knives at a painted target board, and then at a dummy made out of an old flight suit. He vanished into a cloud of smoke and managed to startle Padme, but not the Jedi when he popped out of the ground behind them.
Qui-Gon matched most of the feats, sending the boulder back where it came from with a wave of his hand. Qui-Gon drew his lightsaber and deflected Anakin's shots instead of dodging. The Jedi threw a half-dozen knives he borrowed from Naruto, and hit all the same targets, though the blades arched oddly through the air, moved by the Force instead of the strength of the older human's arms. Qui-Gon also did a vanishing trick, kicking up a huge cloud of dust and vanishing in the cover it provided. The Jedi also startled Padme, but Naruto was not surprised.
Anakin noticed Naruto did not show off his clone jutsu, or his shape-changing jutsu. He figured his brother wasn't a complete idiot for wanting to keep some techniques in reserve. Anakin doubted the Jedi had shown all he was capable of, either. Anakin was also happy that Naruto had not lost his temper at any point, since that weird red glow that surrounded him when he was in a rage scared the crap out of Anakin, and he knew Naruto liked him. It would probably give Padme a heart attack.
Neither Qui-Gon nor Naruto looked particularly tired, despite the heat of two suns, but when Padme suggested they head inside, both agreed. Anakin couldn't wait to begin training. He knew his mother would be sad when he left, but he'd write to her all the time. He was sure she'd understand, and he'd be able to come home and put an end to slavery really quickly, once he was a fully trained Jedi. And with Naruto staying in the village, he'd have the entire flight to Coruscant to talk to Padme. He waved good bye to the small group once they reached the repair shop, and hurried home to pack.
Padme sat on the ridge and watched the second sunset. Her comm clicked again, yet another message from Captain Panaka, reminding her she was needed on the ship. It was not as if she did not know what needed to be done.
She had checked in with her small court when they had moved the ship into the village, and after the safety checks were run. She did not have any duties at that moment; Panaka just wanted to keep her in sight. He was worried for her safety, which was his job, but she had probably never been safer in her life.
"So then Ani and me decided the best way in was to sneak in, so we disguised ourselves as a Hutt, and shuffled right in the door," Naruto said. "Ani's still mad I made him be in the tail."
The image Padme's mind provided startled a giggle out of her. "Did you really make a Hutt costume? How long did it take you to sew it?"
"Huh?" Naruto asked. "Oh. No it was just the…the image of the Hutt. We just had to stay inside the shape."
"Ah," Padme said, a little disappointed, though in reality it would be hard to fool anyone with a costume. Even a holographic projection was very risky.
"Besides," Naruto said. "Shmi-mama-sama is the only one of us really good at sewing, and if we told her the plan she'd have sewed us to our chairs instead."
Naruto launched back into the "Hutt Hall Caper", as he called it. She did listen to him, but most of her focus was on his face. His expression changed to match his story, brow furrowed whenever thinking was recalled, wide eyes and gaping mouth for remembered terror, and a huge grin when he got to the victorious rescue. If he were ever to tell bedtime stories to children, they would never sleep. He was just too animated.
Without the suns, the temperature dropped rapidly, but Naruto didn't react until she shivered.
"Guess we should head back," he said.
Padme nodded reluctantly. She did not have the right to dawdle so long when her people were in trouble, but really it was not a long time at all. She had meet Naruto less than nine hours before, and she'd be leaving in another three.
The Village lottery had come up with 25 names, and those people were busy packing their bags and selling or giving away what they couldn't bring with them. The Skywalker family was not on the list, but Padme knew Qui-Gon planned to take Anakin with them, as a 26th passenger.
In a few years, when his village had more money and stability, Naruto might go visit his brother at the temple, though that was generally not allowed. Even if he did, she would not be on Coruscant then. She'd either be back on Naboo, leading her people, or dead fighting to free them. She wondered if she could hire Naruto, but she was fairly certain the Republic would look on Naboo's hiring of mercenaries more harshly than the Trade Federation's bringing in droids.
She tried to banish the silly little fantasies from her mind but they crept back. Padme knew enough about human psychology to know that stress, near-death experiences, and teenage hormones were all playing havoc on her judgment. She knew she could not bring the boy with her. It would not be fair to either of them. They barely knew each other. Naruto did not even know the most important thing about her. She could not very well propose he run away from his duty to his village when she would never be willing to give up her duty to her world.
And what do I know about him? Naruto is a mercenary, but he has a good heart and a family he loves. He has strange abilities like the Jedi, but he's hasn't the first clue about meditation or the Force. He helps people. He has no brain/mouth filter. He is lucky at cards. He has perfect eyes and his nose is just the tiniest bit crooked.
Maybe leaving was the best thing she could do.
On the walk back through the village, Naruto's comm beeped. He fiddled with it for a moment, his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth as he tapped the small buttons on the side. Eventually it produced a holographic message, telling him he had been hired for a retrieval job in Mos Espa.
"Dang," Naruto said. "It shouldn't take me more than an hour to find Te'clurry. He always hides out in the same brothel. I'll be back before your ship leaves, I promise!"
Padme nodded. "Be careful," she said.
He gave her a huge grin. "Of course I will!" And then he vanished in a puff of smoke.
She was nearly back to the ship when Shmi Skywalker leaned out of a doorway and waved to her. Padme could tell the older woman was nervous about something, and after a few minutes of polite chitchat, the unofficial matron of the village invited her for a cup of tea. They ducked into the building, a large dome-shaped hall with a lot of chairs stacked up against one wall. There was a single table on the far side of it. Four of the chairs were already occupied: the human man with the cyber interface from the repair shop, a Wookiee, and two willowy-looking beings with silver skin whose species Padme did not recognize. Shmi introduced them: the human was Contras Avora, the Wookiee was Shreevok, and the two silvery beings shared the name Mewure. Padme sat and smiled, and thanked them all for their hospitality. They in turn thanked the Naboo for helping some of their friends get home. There tea was poured, and after a little more chitchat they got to the point. They were at least slightly more direct than the politicians she was used to.
"Anakin told me he wants to join the Jedi order," Shmi said.
Padme noticed the others at the table growing more focused.
"I would say congratulations," Padme said. "But your expression is hardly joyful."
"I would feel better if I knew what to expect," Shmi said. "Master Jinn has been less forthcoming than I am comfortable with."
"I cannot tell you much of the Temple, but Master Jinn and his apprentice conducted themselves with courage and honor when they came to our aid on Naboo," Padme said. "I have noticed he seems more nervous here than he did on Naboo, while being shot at by battle droids."
"The main cause of my concern is the way the Jedi react to Naruto," Shmi said.
"Well, he is cheerful enough to make your teeth hurt," Avora said.
"It is something more than that," Shmi said. "I do not know if he truly wants Anakin to go to the Temple for his own sake."
Avora nodded and Padme took another sip of her tea. None of them said outright that the Jedi was acting shifty. He wasn't. He maintained his placid expression and never once had he been caught in a lie. Padme did think Qui-Gon was avoiding mentioning something important. Captain Panaka had told her of Obi-Wan Kenobi's panic attack upon leaving the ship.
Shreevok burbled and his translator activated. "Anakin will not go with the Jedi if you tell him not to, and if he really is such a wonderful candidate, the Jedi can come back for him."
"The apprentice, Obi-Wan, told me Anakin was very old to begin training," Shim said. "I do not want to hold him back from an opportunity, if it is legitimate."
Padme took another long sip of tea. Captain Panaka had mentioned they could have taken more passengers than the bargain had called for, though as it was, people would be stepping on each other and sleeping in the ship's halls. She knew Qui-Gon would not like her next suggestion, and even as she spoke she doubted the altruism of her own motives.
"The only solution I can think of is for you to come, too," Padme said. "No matter what influence the Temple has, they cannot take Anakin from you without your explicit permission. You have every right to take Anakin home again. While the government of Naboo in exile does not have many political powers at the moment, I am certain the Queen can and will hire passage home for you and Anakin, should the Temple not honor Qui-Gon's word. You might even petition the Senate for aid while you are there. I do not think many Republic citizens are aware that slavery is still legal out on the rim."
"Do you think the Republic would do anything for us?" Shmi said.
Padme frowned. "Given the situation we Naboo are in, I cannot make any guarantees. Many of the richer core worlds do like to sponsor…charities. They can be fairly condescending, but you might be able to wring funding from them at least, if you can swallow your pride."
If Shmi were able to establish an anti-slavery charity on Coruscant, it would give Padme a reason to stay in contact with her and her family.
"If anything, you are too humble," one of the Mewures said.
"You should take Naruto," the other Mewure said. "He is very convincing, and will show that we have resources of our own."
"I am more worried about what we'll do if Naruto goes offworld," Avora said. "Every mercenary on Tatooine is terrified of him. If they know he's gone, every last one of them will descend on us. It's embarrassing to be so dependent on a teenager, but he is the linchpin here."
Shreevok rumbled and his translator clicked to life. "We must stand on our own eventually. Naruto is a Spirit and must return to the Shadow World."
Padme just nodded. She agreed with the first part at least.
"I'll see if Naruto wants to go," Shmi said. "I think the village will be alright on its own for a few weeks. We just have to keep word from getting out that he's gone."
With the decision made, Padme excused herself, saying she had to let the Queen know about the change in plans. She told herself that she did not feel guilty about it.
Obi-Wan watched the crew run their final systems check on the hyperdrive. Everything passed muster, but the young Jedi did not feel relieved. He did not think he would feel better back at the temple, either. At the beginning of this mission he had been certain he was ready for the trials, ready for knighthood, but now he doubted himself, and worse, he doubted his master.
Whatever Qui-Gon saw in Anakin Skywalker, it was not worth the risk. It was not worth drawing that creature's attention to them and to the temple. If anyone bothered to ask Obi-Wan's advice he would have told them to interdict the space around Tatooine and never let anything take off from the surface again.
Qui-Gon had mentioned the prophecy of the Chosen One to Obi-Wan, after he had managed to stumble from the lounge in the repair shop back to the Queen's ship. Obi-Wan was not convinced Anakin was the one it spoke of. He questioned Qui-Gon's judgment, asking how he could trust his sense at all with the creature disrupting the Force so badly. Qui-Gon claimed to have gotten used to the interference and made a few bland statements about how Obi-Wan would soon figure out how to do the same.
"Is something wrong?" Obi-Wan asked the pilot as he hurried past with his arms full of ration bars.
"What?" the man said, looking slightly guilty as he stuffed the bars into a drawer under the arm of his chair. "Oh. Not really. The new passengers are bringing some of their own supplies, but I don't want to fight my way past 28 extra bodies to get every meal."
"Don't you mean 26?" Obi-Wan asked.
"The Queen added two more an hour ago," the pilot said.
With a sinking feeling Obi-Wan rushed through the ship to find his master. Qui-Gon was standing by the ramp watching the small group of refugees approach. The creature was easy to spot in their midst, since he was dressed in bright orange. Obi-Wan spotted Anakin Skywalker between his mother and brother, obviously pouting. All three were carrying luggage.
Qui-Gon nodded to them and then hurried up the ramp. Obi-Wan could hear him arguing with the Queen, who was waiting with her handmaidens in the cargo area to greet their new traveling companions.
"Your Highness, Naruto cannot go with us to Coruscant," Qui-Gon said.
"We would know why," the Queen said.
"It is a Jedi matter," Qui-Gon said.
"It is our ship," the Queen replied. "And though it would be poor recompense for your brave and timely service to us, we will not refuse the young man passage without an explicit reason."
"Anakin Skywalker is very strong in the Force and may be a candidate for Jedi training," Qui-Gon said. "But his brother would be a negative influence on him. He has great darkness within him."
"Uzumaki Naruto has committed no crime by our standards," the Queen said. "He and his mother wish to petition the Senate on behalf of those still enslaved on this world. We have agreed to assist them in this endeavor. We require a more serious charge than 'darkness' to go back on our word."
Qui-Gon paused, and Obi-Wan knew they were lost. Qui-Gon could not make a reasonable argument, because how could someone reasonably say "There is an evil entity inside that boy that only I can see, and you must take my word for it"? Qui-Gon could not even risk using the Force to change her mind. Unlike the Gungan leader Boss Nas, the Queen's handmaidens knew Jedi could influence minds, and even if Qui-Gon succeeded despite the creature's proximity, the handmaidens would likely point out the Queen's unusual behavior to her.
Obi-Wan wondered if the Queen was under Naruto's control, but thought it was unlikely, since she had not even met him yet. Perhaps Naruto had gained influence through Padme. He supposed it was also possible Shmi Skywalker had simply made the request and the Queen had granted it. It might just be their bad luck Shmi wanted to bring her other son along.
Obi-Wan looked at the group gathered at the bottom of the ramp. The Queen's security team had begun checking the refugees for weapons, and everyone had at least one. Eventually the passengers agreed to put their arms in a lock-box until they landed on Coruscant. When they were told Naruto would be coming with them, not a single one retained fear of a double cross, even after the boy in the orange jumpsuit handed over four blasters, 30 throwing stars, 20 knives of various sizes, a handful of needles, a bandolier of grenades, and nearly a kilometer of razor sharp micro-wire. The security team did insist they leave behind items that were illegal to possess on the Capitol planet, even with an ambassador's credentials.
Naruto whined a bit when they made him hand over his poisons and mines, which were then passed back to a Wookiee who had come to see them off. Shmi shut him up by pointing out that there were weapons shops on Coruscant, and if he left more behind now he would have more places to put the shiny new sharp things he would undoubtedly pick up.
Obi-Wan saw the Queen's guards exchanging not-quite-panicked looks. He supposed he was not in a much better mood. They thought they'd be stuck in a small ship with a volatile mercenary with all the maturity of a five-year-old. They didn't even know about the giant sun-swallowing entity in the boy's belly.
When the luggage issues were settled, the refugees were brought up the ramp to meet the Queen. Qui-Gon stood at her side looking suspiciously grim, but the Queen's guards focused on Naruto as the others introduced themselves and bowed, curtsied, spun, presented their bellies, or whatever other gesture showed respect and submission.
The Queen welcomed each, solemnly nodding. The Skywalker family was the last, and after exchanging names and formal welcomes, Naruto complemented the Queen's head-dress, mentioning that it looked something like a gold plated turkey with legwarmers. One of the handmaids giggled. Obi-Wan wasn't sure if it was Padme. The Queen told the mercenary that she did not know what a turkey was, but thanked him anyway.
Obi-Wan was struck with an almost uncontrollable urge to get off the ship. He fought down the urge to volunteer to stay behind. He knew his master would need him, but he did not know if he would be of much use.
"Sir, we need to close the ramp," a crewman said.
Obi-Wan looked out at the night and the glowing windows of the village. If this could exist in Naruto's presence…
"Sir, are you all right?" the crewman asked.
"Yes," Obi-Wan said. "Sorry. I was just getting a last breath of air."
The man nodded and Obi-Wan forced his shaky legs to bring him inside.
Author's note: I think this may be the thinkiest chapter I've written in a while. Long run-on battles keep sneaking in and then I have to take them out, but politics and back stabbing are interesting too right? Anyway let me know what you think.
Also thanks to Hobbitfoot for the spell checking!